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After a 45-minute run this past Monday, I decided to take a full week off, focus on my PT exercises and continue to take it easy until I get rid of my lingering hamstring discomfort. It’s minor, but it’s there and I’m sick of it messing up my training. Not running has been tough – I really need my stress-release right now, with more exams coming up and countless other things on my plate – but now’s the time to focus on recovery. Chicago training begins in June and I am determined to begin, and end, that training cycle injury free!

Taking time off means that I won’t be in racing shape for the Brooklyn Half, but I entered that race knowing that would probably be the case. It’s only a few days after my final exams, and I highly doubt I will be primed to PR. That’s why I signed E up too – it gives him a good excuse to visit me (not like he needs one) as I celebrate finishing my first semester, and it will be a great opportunity for me to finally pace him in a race. My goal is to bring him in under 1:50, which was his goal in the NYC half. I normally wouldn’t sign him up without really asking, but the race was selling out so quickly and I knew he would want to run it if he had a spot. That’s the nice thing about dating another runner – I don’t think I could randomly email a race confirmation to anyone else and get “woohoo!” as a response.

The running aspect of my relationship with E is actually a feature of my Running Story, which I’m excited to report was published this past Friday in Sam Murphy’s Real Women Run, by Kyle Books. If you’re interested, you can check it out at the publisher’s siteAmazon or Amazon UK – my story (pictured below) is in the preview pages! Awesome.

This means that I can finally share the actual text of my story, to accompany all the photos and past entries I have posted since Sam – my UK running coach- first asked me to contribute to her new book in June 2011.

Here’s a bit of context – she invited five women of different backgrounds and ages to write a short piece on why they run and how they integrate running into their lives. She wanted my story, which describes how I got back into running while living in London, to represent the perspective of a twenty-something woman with a busy career and social life. I found it challenging to write what running means to me in just 500 words, while representing this specific point of view, but it was a fun project.

I figured I was entitled to a bit of dramatic license, so I embellished and twisted things around slightly. My job wasn’t so high-powered that I rushed off to important early morning meetings or worked late on a regular basis (once in awhile, sure) as the story implies, and I actually started running again before not after my last relationship ended (but just up to 10k distance). A friend encouraged me to enter the half marathon, and I did so before not after the breakup. But the breakup definitely inspired me to throw myself into training for that race, and ultimately fall in love with longer distances. It was very empowering, tracking my progress over the course of those four months and crossing my first half marathon finish line, faster than I could have ever imagined!

Everything else is true – weekends in Istanbul, beach runs in Zanzibar and all. I traveled and socialized very often, and balancing that with running was at times a bit difficult, but I made it work. One thing I didn’t include in the story is the fact that I trained for that half marathon on occasion with my ex – it was a great way to remain in each other’s lives during a somewhat awkward post-breakup phase, before we became friends again. It was also wonderful having his support on race day – running your first half is scary, and I was glad I wasn’t doing it by myself. It didn’t hurt either that I got to gloat a bit over my time afterwards, although I’ll add for his benefit that two years later, he beat my time by 54 seconds on the same course! That’s okay, no one can take that initial victory away from me. 🙂

But enough of my blabbing…here’s the story!

It was a broken heart that motivated me to start running again. I had moved to London to be with the man I’d fallen in love with whilst travelling through South America – but a year later, our relationship came to an end. Although the break-up was amicable, I was nonetheless devastated and needed a healthy challenge to drive me out of my hole and rediscover parts of myself that I had long neglected.

One morning, an ad for the Royal Parks Half Marathon caught my eye. Although I hadn’t run regularly for years and had never run more than six miles, I signed up. I felt a rush of excitement, and then one of fear. How could I successfully juggle an intensive running plan with myriad other things vying for my time?! Initially, I struggled to find the right balance between prioritizing my training and, for example, staying late at work to finish an urgent project, going on a date, helping my sister plan her wedding, spending a weekend in Istanbul…However, I quickly discovered that running doesn’t take time – it gives life force. With each step, I was both clawing back my old self and building the foundation for a new, improved version.

Fittingly, as I had taken up running to leave my previous relationship behind, I did just that on race day – both literally and figuratively. I not only recovered from my emotional slump, but also smashed my first half marathon to pieces, beating my ex (who also happened to be competing) by four minutes! He was proud of me, but visibly annoyed, which made victory that much sweeter.

Perhaps it isn’t a surprise that my passion for running ultimately sparked my current romance. I was at a party, chatting about training for my first marathon, when another runner joined the conversation. It was refreshing to finally connect with someone who shared my love of running! We dated for several months, and after I had completed the Paris marathon – aided by his support and encouragement – my gut confirmed that he was the right guy. Seven months later, we both finished the NYC marathon – his first, and my first sub-3:40. I was incredibly grateful not only to have achieved my goal, but also to celebrate with someone I love who understood exactly how I felt, down to waking up the next morning and hardly being able to hobble to the bathroom!

As time goes on, running continues to inspire me – as I coast along the river before the Monday morning rush; as I furiously attack an interval session prior to an important meeting; as I chat breathlessly with a running buddy in between hill repeats; as I shift gears in mile 16 towards a well-earned Sunday pancake breakfast; as I savour a refreshing breeze along a stretch of beach in Zanzibar; or as I sprint across a finish line and realise – I did it.

What is consistent across all of these runs is that powerful, uplifting feeling of endorphins coursing through my body, translating into the confidence, courage and positive energy that fuel the rest of my day – or dare I say, life.

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Last Sunday, E and I attended an all-day running workshop that my coach, Sam Murphy, held at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre in South London. I had been in contact with Sam over email for many months, but it had been quite some time since she had seen me run. I thought it would be the perfect time to check my progress, and in particular my technique, as I launch into my next marathon training cycle. I also figured it would be a great opportunity to observe her in action, given that I admire her coaching style and will soon be a coach myself! Lastly, I was excited for E to work with Sam – he had only met her briefly before one of my sessions, and I knew that he would benefit from her feedback.

The title of the workshop was Running Well, which also happens to be that of one of Sam’s books. Principal topics of the day, which was divided between classroom presentations/discussions and outdoor practical sessions, included technique, injury prevention, drills/warm-ups, running-specific strength exercises, different types of runs, how to structure a training program and stretching, among other things.

Given my previous coaching sessions with Sam, and the fact that the workshop would surely be geared towards runners of varying levels and experience, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when E and I arrived at 9:45am. Additionally, Sunday was predicted to be one of the hottest days of the year (and it certainly was) – not ideal for either spending time in a classroom or performing various running activities in a crowded park, including a mid-afternoon threshold interval session! However, we survived, and everything Sam covered turned out to be extremely relevant and useful, in addition to being presented in an interesting and fun way. E and I left at 4:30pm feeling wiped out, but enlightened and pleased we attended!

Our group consisted of 15 runners, myself included – a good size! Sam obviously led the workshop, but her husband Jeff, a lovely guy who also happens to run a 2:29 marathon (!!), as well as another coach named Suzy helped her throughout the day. Having, effectively, three coaches was awesome and in my opinion, a huge selling point of this workshop. Not only did it help Sam lead the group more professionally and efficiently, but it was great to have the additional support and feedback to ensure that each of us received a substantial amount of personal attention within the larger group setting. So – £55 for a six-hour workshop with three coaches? Not bad at all.

Sam kicked off the day with a video analysis – each of us had to run for a short distance at a normal pace while she recorded it with a camcorder. She would later play back and analyze each person’s recording frame by frame, together with a second video taken later that morning. She had done a video analysis with me about a year earlier in a one-to-one session – it can be shocking to see yourself run, particularly for the first time, but is crucial to becoming more aware of your technique and discovering what you need to improve. It’s quite common to think you’re doing something a certain way when in fact you’re doing quite the opposite!

For example, E and I both thought we had moved away from heel striking, but then later saw clear evidence that we had not. Even worse, we were overstriding – our feet were landing in front of rather than directly below our bodies. E seemed pretty surprised – he insisted he had corrected this after completing a series of sessions last year with some running specialists who focus on biomechanics (recommended by Sam, in fact). I think it’s quite easy to slip back into old habits, though – it can take awhile to retrain your body! For me, I had a feeling before watching the video that I hadn’t fixed my heel strike, but I really thought I had improved my stride/foot placement! Sigh. At least Sam confirmed that the rest of my technique was looking great, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that my kick is actually relatively high. I always feel like my heels hardly leave the ground, compared to other runners I observe.

We moved into the classroom around 10am. After introductions, Sam addressed in detail how to warm up properly before a run and why this is important, as well as how to instill good technique (as well as what defines good technique) by performing a variety of specific drills. Sam had taught me some of these before, but they have been missing from my routine for quite some time, so it was good to jog my memory as well as learn some new drills. Hopefully those images of my feet landing way too far forward will make me more disciplined about incorporating drills into my training on a more regular basis.

Our classroom time was followed by our first outdoor session, which gave us an opportunity to put what we had just learned into practice under our coaches’ watchful eyes. It was only 11am, but already the temperature was very uncomfortable – we were sweating buckets after a simple warm-up!

The hour covered technique drills, which included (just to name a few, and including language borrowed from Sam’s handouts) things like jogging to a metronome to encourage a higher cadence or faster leg turnover, “elasticity bounces” or quick jumps on the spot to bring focus to the foot strike, “pick-ups” or kicks up to your butt to help avoid overstriding and “exchanges,” where you stand on one foot with other foot raised in a “number 4” shape and switch to the other foot in one swift movement (pictured below). Obviously these are better explained in person or with photos, but hopefully you get the idea.

Sam discussed a specific technique goal and demonstrated the corresponding drill to achieve it, which the group then attempted either in place within two lines (pictured above – I’m in the pink top across from Sam) or moving forward and around a set of cones (as in the below).

  

So what did Sam define as elements of good running technique, supported by these drills? Some key points from her “Running technique” handout include the following:

  • Body posture – head up; eyes forward; torso upright (not bent forward at the waist – slight forward lean comes from the heels); pelvis in neutral (think of it as a bucket of water, that you don’t want to spill); and shoulders relaxed;
  • Arm position – elbows bent to at least 90 degrees and kept relatively close to the body, but rotated slightly inwards; movement from armpit not shoulders; and hands relaxed;
  • Legs/feet – land with the foot under the pelvis with bent knee, rather than in front of body; lead with the knee not the heel (as I do!); increase cadence to 180 steps or higher; bring the foot off the ground more quickly; pull the leg through more quickly with a strong knee bend; and move away from a pronounced heel or toe strike and towards a flatter landing.

Here we are, below, determining our cadence (steps per minute), which you can do by running for 60 seconds and counting how many times one foot lands (easier than trying to count both feet!), and then multiplying by two. We did this twice, and I hit 196 both times! This is a definite improvement since I first started to train with Sam.

After drills, Sam had us do a short run, where we ran at an easy/steady pace but concentrated on a specific aspect of our technique for one minute at a time. Because of the heat, this was cut short slightly, so in total we only ran about 1.8 miles in the entire morning session. We had to save ourselves for later, so we were told!

On our way back to the classroom, Sam did a second video analysis, to see how much of what he had learned had seeped into our technique. Obviously no one changes these things dramatically overnight, but it was still impressive how many of us, myself included, made some small improvements.

The air conditioning felt incredible when we went back inside for our short break. I had a big snack (half of my packed lunch, an amazing cous-cous salad I had cooked the day before), knowing I would struggle with my sensitive stomach to eat lunch and do speedwork in the heat less than two hours later. Sam then launched into her “talk and practical on running-specific strength” – like with the drills, she explained and demonstrated each exercise (things like the plank, bridge with knee lifts, lunges/squats etc., as well as slightly more obscure running specific exercises), and we then tried it on our mats. Much of this Sam had shown me before, but it helped to go through them and check with the coaches to make sure I was doing them all properly, since I had a few questions from when I used to do these more regularly.

Lunch was a “working lunch,” where we gathered into small groups and received feedback on our running videos while eating. Sam clicked through each frame (the clips were only two or three seconds long), showing us what we were doing well, and what we weren’t doing correctly. It was interesting to learn from others as well as from my own video – many of us were guilty of the same mistakes – primarily, heel striking and overstriding.

I was excited for the next segment – training programs – given that I still need to create my own Portland marathon training plan. Sam explained the various types of runs – recovery, threshold/tempo, VO2 max, long etc. and stressed the importance of ensuring that you go into each run knowing what purpose it serves in the context of your training. This was nothing new, but as with some of the other material, good to hear again.

I did, however, have many questions about preparing my own program and got some clarification on several things, including tempo runs (continuous running at a comfortably hard pace) versus threshold interval runs (also run at this pace, but as you would imagine, broken down into shorter periods of time with short recoveries). Although Sam only gave me the intervals to do during my two training cycles, which I had always wondered about, she said that I can alternate between the two in my upcoming program. She also provided me with other tips that I will think back on while building my own marathon schedule for the first time.

By this point, it was around 3pm and not only an oven out there but also a complete zoo in the park, with TONS of people, animals, vehicles and everything else you can imagine all around the place. In other words, it was the PERFECT time for a threshold interval session!

There I am at the start line of our loop – don’t I look thrilled to run 3 x 6min at 7:25 – 7:40 pace, with 90sec recoveries?! E obviously was equally excited. It wasn’t a pretty sight, but I’m happy to report that I somehow managed to hit an average pace of 7:27, despite the heat, crowds, a very unhappy stomach and slowing down at the end when I felt like I was going to die. Sam, Jeff and Suzy were each positioned at different parts of the loop to announce the time and, more importantly, encourage us to keep working hard in such tough conditions. That is where having a coach present during a training session can make a huge difference. Okay, and I confess that my competitive self managed to escape and ensured that I maintained my position at the front of the pack – but only because I had to hit my goal pace! Check out my Garmin entry to see how I did in more detail.

Finishing this session was a massive relief, not only because I wasn’t sure I would hit my target, but also because all that was left for the day was a nice long stretch session in the shade. It felt awesome, and it was also great to get feedback from the coaches on something that is so important, and yet far too often neglected after a run.

We returned to the classroom for some Q&A, said our goodbyes and then E and I made our way back home. We were exhausted, hot and hungry – but also feeling slightly ill, not only from the physical exertion but also from the mish-mash of foods we had eaten throughout the day (gatorade, flap-jacks, banana, cous-cous salad etc). Exercising in that type of heat really messes with you if you aren’t used to it, and if you aren’t careful about your nutrition and hydration. I think mostly, we were just tired.

But it was SO nice out by this point in the day, and everyone we knew had spent the afternoon lounging in the park, that we couldn’t help but stop for some pear cider in an outdoor cafe, which of course went straight to our heads. We then were suddenly starving and cooked up some Ostrich burgers. Turns out the whole combination was NOT the best idea and we spent the next hour lying on the floor (literally) curled up in a ball not feeling very well. Eventually it passed, and by perhaps 10pm it finally stopped feeling like a sauna outside, and we were able to look back on our day with a sense of achievement, as well as a new awareness of what we must improve going forward.

To check out Sam’s comments on how the workshop went, as well as to read about future workshops, click here.

Welcome to FFR

Hi, I'm Claire! I’m a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (MS, RD, CDN) and a Road Runners Club of America certified coach. This is where I share my latest adventures in running, racing, food & travel! If you'd like to work with me, please visit my professional website, Eat for Endurance.

My PRs

Marathon (Chicago): 3:33:18
Boston Marathon: 3:36:14
Half-Marathon: 1:37:21
10M: 1:14:52
10k: 44:52

My latest photos

This morning's breakfast bowl isn't exactly pretty, but really delicious and filling! Two fried eggs in a pan with black beans (I used 1/2 cup = 1 serving), a little feta, a few spoonfuls of ricotta, some pesto (random but had some leftover and tastes great with eggs), and 1/4 avocado. Cooked all together for a high protein tasty breakfast! Awesome @onepeloton endurance ride earlier today with my buddy @mattwilpers before enjoying some family time outdoors on this beautiful day. Arielle came to visit afterwards and clearly is a big Peloton fan too! Speaking of which, check out the latest episode of the Clip Out (a Peloton fan podcast) - had such a great time talking all things nutrition and Peloton with @clipoutcrystal and Tom, who are hilarious btw! (Link in bio - my segment ~20min in). Wishing everyone a very happy first day of Fall! 🍁🍂 It's my favorite time of year to get out into nature and go for a run. L'Shana Tova to those who celebrate! We started the New Year with some apple picking at @wilkloworchards on our way back to NYC yesterday. Was so much fun, and Arielle was a great little helper! We don't have much food in the house after being away so these crisp local apples with almond butter will be our tasty, healthy snacks today. Getting ready for the loooong drive back to NYC after unplugging in Lake Placid for my bday! Fueling with a bowl of 5% plain Greek yogurt, bananas, peaches, and apple cinnamon granola. Not much of a view from our balcony this morning of Mirror Lake - swipe right for our view yesterday! So beautiful and peaceful here - minus screaming baby, of course. 😂 #Tbt to earlier this week, when one of my awesome @nutritionenergy clients surprised me with a @levainbakery cookie after we talked about them at our last session. I had planned to save half for my husband (those cookies are seriously dense!), but it was so delicious, I changed my mind and had the second half later in the day. Did I feel bad about it afterwards? Did I end up skipping dinner or working out more to compensate? Nope! I had already eaten a healthy balanced lunch, and it's not everyday that I enjoy such a decadent treat (although you will find me having smaller treats quite often 😀).

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